ArcGIS Living Atlas

Your Living Atlas Questions Answered

A great map starts with great data. But finding the data you need for your specific project isn’t always an easy accomplishment. The traditional workflow has always been to go find a data source, download the raw data, process it into the format you need, fumble through the nuances of metadata, and then you’d finally start your real GIS work. Luckily, ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World is a resource included within ArcGIS to help address this need for easily accessible, quality spatial content. But Living Atlas is far more than just data. It spans the possibilities of web GIS by offering spatial content in useful ways across ArcGIS.

Since its debut in 2014, the ArcGIS Living Atlas team has received some common questions about how to access and understand Living Atlas.

What is Living Atlas? How can I use it? Can I nominate my own data and maps? 

This blog aims to help address these core questions (and more!) so that you can get started with Living Atlas immediately. The questions are broken into three groupings: General Questions, Using Living Atlas, and Nominating Your Spatial Content to Living Atlas. Use the list of links below to navigate to the question you need, and hop back to the list using the “Back to top of blog” link at the end of each question.


General Living Atlas Questions

Using Living Atlas

Nominating Your Spatial Content to Living Atlas

I have more questions, or I want to learn more. Where should I go?

General Living Atlas Questions

What is ArcGIS Living Atlas?

ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World (also known as Living Atlas) connects the wider GIS community with the spatial content they need for their everyday workflows. This collection of spatial content can be accessed and used within ArcGIS, like how you would use your own local data.

ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World is an evolving digital repository assembled from the collective work of the global GIS community. It includes maps, apps, and data layers to support your work. People share their spatial content to Living Atlas to connect millions of GIS users to their spatial layers, maps, and more. Living Atlas is simply a curated view of items that are already available in ArcGIS Online. But more importantly, it ensures that the items are well-documented, authoritative, and reviewed regularly.

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Why use Living Atlas?

We all need great data. Traditionally, the pattern was to find what you need, download it, process it into a usable format, and then you could finally start your work. And if you needed an updated version down the line, you would repeat this process. Luckily, web GIS makes spatial data easier to share and access than ever before. But there are millions of layers in ArcGIS Online, and it can be difficult to know if an item is trustworthy, from a good source, or will still be around again tomorrow when you need it.

Living Atlas helps you find the best content within ArcGIS Online, from both Esri and the GIS community. Your organization can both use Living Atlas as well as nominate your own content, making it significantly easier for millions of GIS users around the world to access your content.

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Are there any resources to help me get started with Living Atlas?

Yes! Check out the following resources based on what you are looking for:

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How is Living Atlas different from the items in ArcGIS Online?

Living Atlas is a collection of ArcGIS Online items that have been nominated and curated. In fact, Living Atlas is simply an ArcGIS Online group storing the curated items that users like yourself have nominated. Esri doesn’t alter the items in any way. The items are still owned and managed by the data owner, they are just exposed in easy-to-find places within the ArcGIS environment to help GIS professionals do their work.

ArcGIS Online contains millions of items, many which end up with no documentation, or with titles like “TEST” or “DEMO”. Living Atlas helps you find the best of the best content within ArcGIS Online by allowing authoritative sources to nominate their existing content and make it easily accessible.

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Can I trust the content I find in Living Atlas?

Items go through a curation process in order to appear within Living Atlas, and are reviewed by an Esri staff member to ensure that the content is well-documented and comes from a reliable source. In order to be accepted into Living Atlas, the curator from Esri will investigate the account who nominated the item, the source of the data, and the quality of the content. To be accepted, the item must also be well-documented, so that you can also investigate the item yourself to check if it is what you need for your work.

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Using Living Atlas

Where can I access Living Atlas?

Living Atlas comes with your ArcGIS license, and can be easily accessed from the same places you normally would add data, layers, or maps into your projects. Depending on where you are working, you may see different types of items.

Living Atlas website

All item types can be found here. This is the most comprehensive view of Living Atlas content, and has a specialized search for finding what you need.

The Living Atlas website, which allows users to search for GIS content they need

ArcGIS Online Content

All item types can also be found here. Once signed into ArcGIS Online, go to Content, and choose “Living Atlas” to browse this view.

Find Living Atlas in the Content tab of ArcGIS Online

ArcGIS Online Map Viewer

Once you are signed in, you can find Living Atlas layers within the “Add” options in the Table of Contents. Here, you’ll find layers from Living Atlas. For example, feature layers, image layers, imagery layers, etc.

Living Atlas can be found directly within the Map Viewer

ArcGIS Online Map Viewer Basemap

The default basemaps available in ArcGIS are considered Living Atlas content, but did you know you can also find additional Living Atlas basemaps and their layers in the Basemap options within Map Viewer?

Find Living Atlas basemaps within Map Viewer

ArcGIS Pro

You can find Living Atlas within the ArcGIS Online and Portal options through Add Data or through the Catalog pane.

Screenshot showing where to find Living Atlas within Pro

Besides ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Pro, you can also find Living Atlas within other apps and experiences within ArcGIS.

ArcGIS Instant Apps, ArcGIS Dashboards, ArcGIS Hub, Experience Builder, among others:

Screenshot showing where to find Living Atlas within various ArcGIS Online apps

Developers

can access and use Living Atlas through the core ArcGIS Online Living Atlas group storing the most current collection. Query the group to harness the latest collection of Living Atlas content.

Note: You can also find Living Atlas content through  the Living Atlas website and within ArcGIS Online when you are not signed in. This allows you to browse the content that is available, but keep in mind that advanced tools and the ability to save only appear when you are logged in.

 

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How can I find what I need within Living Atlas?

While each product looks a little different in each place you find Living Atlas, there are a few common ways to find the content you need.

Filters

In Pro, all filtering options and categories can be found in the filter button:

Screenshot showing the filtering options in Pro

Within Map Viewer, all filtering options and categories can be found in the filter button:

Screenshot showing where to find the filters within Map Viewer

Categories

The major categories can help you narrow down the full collection of Living Atlas content into a more focused grouping of content for your needs.

Screenshot showing the Living Atlas categories

Within each category is also a set of sub-categories to help you find more specific content:

Screenshot showing Living Atlas subcategories

Search

Depending on how much you know about the data you are looking for, using a search term is the best way to find what you need. Try using the source name (ex: Census, NOAA, USGS) or the high-level topic such as “soils” or “housing” or “imagery” to find related content.

Item Type

Use the filter option to find the type of content you need. Layers and web maps are the most common format to use, but there are also tools like deep learning packages, 3D web scenes, and apps. Depending on what you need, narrowing down the type will help you get to items most useful for your work.

Region

Another way to narrow down you search is to utilize the regions. If you are outside of the US in particular, there are almost 70 regions which are curated by a local Living Atlas curator for that region. This can help you find international content more easily.

Living Atlas website tips:

The Living Atlas website provides the most comprehensive view of the Living Atlas collection, and provides extra tools for finding what you need. Use the unique filtering to narrow down your search by time, Esri-only content, and items marked authoritative.

Screenshot showing Living Atlas filters on the website

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What can I do with Living Atlas content?

Depending on the type of content you are working with, and the item’s Terms of Use, what you can do varies widely.

First, go to the item page of the item you are interested in, and scroll down to check the Terms of Use:

Screenshot of Terms of Use

Some items fall under a creative commons license, while items owned by Esri will fall under the Esri Master’s License Agreement. Make sure to visit the links provided to better understand what you can do with an item. In general, you can use and distribute these types of content unless specified otherwise in the Terms of Use.

Check the item type to determine what you can do with each item:

Layers come in many formats, so understanding the benefits and limitations of each type is important to understand if it can be used in your work. In general, feature layers can be used within mapping, analysis, and most general GIS workflows. You can change the symbology, pop-up, and customize to your needs. Image Service layers may generally have an extent limit, so keep this in mind when using within geoprocessing tools. Check out the full list of hosted layer types to better understand what is possible.

Web Maps can be opened, customized, and saved to your content. The benefit of using a web map is that there has been thought put into aspects like the basemap, bookmarks, symbology, and pop-up. This can help speed up your work by zooming to your area and hitting “Save”.

Apps like StoryMaps, Dashboards, and custom apps can be opened and explored to find quick answers to your spatial questions. They can also be used to inspire your own work. Some of the Highlighted Apps even allow you to download the backend code to customize for your needs if you are a developer.

Tools encompass many types of content such as deep learning packages, style files, raster function templates, and more. Explore each item to learn what can be done with that type of item and where to use it most appropriately.

To learn more about how to use Living Atlas content, check out this great blog by Bern Szukalski.

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What are the different badges I see on items?

All items within Living Atlas will have a “Living Atlas” badge when you open the item description page, but some items also contain some additional badges next to the item. They may appear slightly different depending on where you are accessing the item (ArcGIS Pro, ArcGIS Online, etc). Here are some helpful hints for understanding what these mean:

Subscriber and Premium Content

If a Subscriber or Premium content badge appears (it will look like a shield), this means that the item requires an ArcGIS Online subscription to access the item. Subscriber layers do not consume credits, but will require some extra steps if you want to share the content in your work. Premium content will consume credits to use the item. To learn more about what this means, visit the following resources:

Learn more about subscriber and premium content

Use subscriber content in your maps and apps

Understanding credits

Authoritative Content

An organization can be designated as authoritative so that their items can appear with this badge. The organization must be verified in order to do this, and items can be marked with this badge to help end users have additional trust in the content. Because this must be done for the entire organization, this is why not all Living Atlas items have this badge. This is an opt-in step, but can greatly help the GIS community trust the items created by the organization. To learn more about authoritative content, visit the following resources:

Designate items as authoritative

Creating Authoritative Content in ArcGIS Online

Best practices for authoritative data providers

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Can I access Living Atlas through my ArcGIS Enterprise Portal?

If your ArcGIS Enterprise portal has access to the internet, your organization administrator can configure it to access a subset of ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World content from ArcGIS Online. If your portal is not connected to the internet, your administrator can publish a set of ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World Esri boundary layers directly to the portal for you to use in maps, scenes, and analysis.

The content you see will depend on the version of Enterprise you are running. See what content is included in the different deployments of Living Atlas to Enterprise.

Configure ArcGIS content for your portal.

Understand the Living Atlas Enterprise update cycles.

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Why do I see different content within the various Regions?

Many of the regions align with an Esri International Distributor who curates the content for that region. It is up to the local curator to determine if an item correctly fits within their specific region.

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Nominating Your Spatial Content to Living Atlas

Why nominate to Living Atlas?

If you are the owner or source for reliable, authoritative GIS data, Living Atlas allows you to share that content with the wider GIS community. Living Atlas is available to GIS users within ArcGIS products, so GIS users would be able to easily find and use your content with just a few clicks.

If you already have content in Hub, that’s great! You can also contribute that content to Living Atlas. Living Atlas just exposes it in a different way, and makes it accessible to any ArcGIS user directly within products like ArcGIS Pro, ArcGIS Online, ArcGIS StoryMaps, ArcGIS Instant Apps, and more!

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What can be nominated to Living Atlas?

Living Atlas doesn’t just contain data, but rather a wide variety of content types to help different GIS users within their unique GIS workflows.

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What is needed to nominate content to Living Atlas?

Ultimately, the goal is to share your content to the GIS community. To share your content to Living Atlas, it must be available as an item in ArcGIS Online, and well-documented so that all GIS users have confidence using the content in their workflows. But there are also other factors that are considered to ensure your item is ready for the wider GIS community. Let’s look at a more detailed view of the standards for inclusion into Living Atlas.

You will need the following:

A public ArcGIS Organizational account, with a bio and profile configured

Share your content as an ArcGIS Online item

Item must be shared with Everyone (public)

The item details must be filled out. This is where you help the GIS Community understand what you are sharing. Your item must have:

Within the Settings of your item, check for a few things:

A few other considerations/suggestions:

For more insight to applying best practices to your shared items, visit this resource. For an example of a well-documented layer, check out this item from Living Atlas.

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How do I nominate my content?

Once you have met the guidelines above, you’re ready to nominate your content! Start by going to the Living Atlas website and make sure you are signed in. Go to the Contribute tab and choose “Nominate Your Content”.

Screenshot of the Contribute tab

You will see all your ArcGIS Online items here, which you can search or sort to find the item you’d like to nominate. You’ll notice that each item is scored, which is checking for the completion of the components listed in the previous section of this blog. If you completed the steps above, you will see a blue “Nominate now” button, meaning you met the minimum requirements to nominate your content.

If the button is not available to click, it means you may have additional things to add to your item before you can nominate. You can see there are edit options directly within the nomination app to help you make changes easily.

For more instructions, steps, and tutorials for how to nominate, check out the following resources:

StoryMap Tutorial: Share Your Content to ArcGIS Living Atlas

A simple checklist to nominate your maps and apps into Living Atlas

“HOW TO nominate your stuff” video by John Nelson

For more details about the scoring, check out the next question in the blog.

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When nominating, what does the scoring mean?

If you are nominating your item within the Contribute tab, you’ll see that each item is scored for completeness. This is based on the list mentioned previously, where more critical factors are weighted more heavily. This is not a reflection of your data, but rather a detection of how well the item’s information is filled in. For example, if I tried to nominate the item below, it would have a very low score because it doesn’t include critical items like a thumbnail, summary, etc:

You can see there are suggested improvements listed for the item. Suggestions with a red symbol indicate this is a requirement to see the Nominate button to appear. Suggestions with a yellow symbol indicate a best practice that should be implemented to help the general GIS community better understand your item. They will also help people find the content when searching.

If you hover over the improvement, you’ll see some guidance on how to improve your item:

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How does my item get curated once it is nominated?

Once you hit the Nominate button, a curator from the Living Atlas team will receive a notification. Within a day or two, they will review the item and make sure it meets the core requirements. If your item meets the standards, it will be accepted and shared to a group which exposes the item throughout ArcGIS.

The curator may also offer some suggestions and best practices to help improve the usability of the item for the general GIS user. There may be some additional emails and iteration back and forth until there is an agreement that the item is ready for general consumption by the GIS community.

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Will Esri edit my item in any way?

No. You own and manage your own content. The Living Atlas curators will simply review your item and offer suggestions.

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How can I mark my items as authoritative?

For an item to display an Authoritative badge, ensure the following requirements are met.

For detailed steps, visit the documentation page for designating items as authoritative.

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What happens after my item is accepted?

When a curator accepts your item into Living Atlas, you will receive an email and the item will appear in Living Atlas within a few minutes of that email.

Since Living Atlas is indeed a living collection of spatial content, each item is reviewed annually by the Living Atlas team of curators to ensure the item is still working properly and meets the current standards. If you don’t hear from Esri after a year, it is a good indication that your item is still in good shape. If you hear from a curator, your item may need small adjustments to remain within Living Atlas.

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How do I maintain my Living Atlas items?

While the Living Atlas team reviews each item annually, you are still the owner and subject matter expert for your content. Here are some tips on how to keep your item current and relevant:

Explore the various ways to keep your data updated using the ArcGIS Online methods

Update your data using python feeds

Update your data from a feature class in Pro

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I have more questions, or I want to learn more. Where should I go?

If your question was not covered in the questions in this blog, or if you want to learn more about how to use and access Living Atlas, there are a few ways to connect with the Living Atlas community. Join the conversation at the Living Atlas Esri Community page and follow us on X.

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About the author

I am a Senior Product Engineer on the Living Atlas team at Esri. I work to create clear and concise stories about demographic, socioeconomic, and policy topics using cartography. I also build data layers and tutorials to help others create their own map masterpieces.

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